The fatal flaw in the myth of human goodness is that it fails to correspond with what we know about the world from our own ordinary experience. And when a worldview is too small, when it denies the existence of some part of reality, that part will reassert itself in some way, demanding our attention. It’s like trying to squeeze a balloon in your hands: Some parts will always bulge out. Our sense of sin will always find expression in some form.
Take, for example, the enormous appetite Americans have for horror fiction. What explains this fascination? Part of the answer is that these books deal with gnawing questions about the depth of human evil. This may be one reason Stephen King’s novels top the charts again and again. For in King’s gruesome world, evil is threateningly real, and supernatural forces lurk everywhere, seeking whom they may devour. Normal people are drawn to these grim stories for the same reason a small child wants to hear the story of the “Three Little Pigs” over and over again, each time delighting in the way the resourceful third pig heats a pot of boiling water in his fireplace to scald the big bad wolf when he sneaks down the chimney.
Children love fairy tales, especially the classic ones recorded by the Brothers Grimm, because they’re stocked with scary villains — evil stepmothers and wicked witches, ugly trolls and fierce dragons. Children instinctively know that evil exists, and they gravitate toward stories that symbolize the bad and scary things of life through fantasy characters — and then show those characters being soundly defeated by the good.
Psychologist Bruno Bettelheim says well-meaning parents who refuse to read these spine-tingling stories to their children are not doing the kids a favor. Instead, they’re denying them a chance to face their very real fears within the safely sheltered realm of fantasy — in a story where the witches and goblins disappear with the words “happily ever after.”*
How Now Shall We Live?, Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey, Tyndale, 1999, p 189
*Bruno Bettelheim, The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1977)